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Another View: We must protect local auto dealers from unfair car-maker mandates

April 10. 2013 5:49PM

You may have heard some news about Senate Bill 126, the Dealers Bill of Rights. When one hears the term "Bill of Rights," one may think about the meaning of the founding of our state. In New Hampshire, we take great pride in our "Live free or die" and local-control philosophies. The auto dealers of New Hampshire are asking that these philosophies be protected so the men and women who operate the state's automobile dealerships, which employ thousands of people, can make the best decisions for their employees, customers, businesses and communities.

Remember the presidential candidate with the $400 haircut? Well, out-of-state auto manufacturers want to give local auto dealers a million-dollar haircut. Auto manufacturers are demanding that New Hampshire dealers completely rebuild or renovate their buildings every five to seven years. Their reason? Hairstyles and clothing styles change. The Auto Alliance argues that because fashion styles change so quickly, so should the looks of a new vehicle dealership.

This is why I support SB 126, which limits the timing of upgrades to every 15 years instead of every five years. SB 126 also allows dealers to buy their tools and supplies, including construction materials, from local businesses. Right now, many manufacturers require dealers to buy tiles, furniture and tools from out-of-state, single-source suppliers. Why should a New Hampshire dealer buy granite outside the Granite State?

How does all this help New Hampshire consumers and businesses keep costs down? It doesn't.

Who pays for these upgrades? The dealer, not the manufacturer. What proof do the manufacturers have that a multi-million-dollar upgrades sells more cars? None. In fact, if all dealers upgrade their stores, car buyers are still going to buy the same amount of cars.

At AutoFair, I represent different manufacturers, which require different sets of "rules." There's a furniture program for Honda, specific signage for Nissan, and a new Ford showroom to match a brand-new and unexpected public relations campaign.

We recently finished new construction at one of our Manchester locations. The manufacturer forced us to go through its vendors, so the work was done by out-of-state employees and companies. Even though I found local people who could do the same project at 50 percent of the cost, I was required to go through the national vendor list. It's unfair, and it must stop.

This is not just about money. As a member of this community, I fiercely believe in buying local. But I was forced to buy furniture from out of state or risk losing my inventory.

The dollars add up fast. Over the last few years, we have done major renovations to our facilities. We could have saved more than $100,000 if we had used local vendors. And that's just on furniture.

Ours is a very competitive industry, and we would like to think we are partners with manufacturers, but time and again they remind us we are not. After you sign the first agreement, it turns out that every few years the manufacturer hires a new team with a new brand imaging effort. Every new idea costs me money. You see, it may be the manufacturer's idea, but it is paid for out of my wallet.

I'm a larger dealer, so I can spread out the burden of big expenses. Smaller dealers can't. They are being driven out of business.

That's why we need to pass SB 126, the Dealer Bill of Rights. It includes rules that would allow New Hampshire dealers to buy local. It would require more time before we are forced to do major renovations and building projects, and it would require basic transparency of rules so we can access the information used by manufacturers to make these big-dollar decisions.

Auto makers want you to think this will trigger lawsuits and drive up car prices. Why would we want to make it harder to sell vehicles? And lawsuits are the only option we have now; the Dealer Bill of Rights will clarify rules.

This is about fairness. It's why the New Hampshire Senate supported SB 126 by an overwhelming 21-2 margin. This does nothing more than provide balance in the relationship where no balance exists now and help consumers by keeping costs down.

Help protect local jobs, local vendors and local control and please support the Dealer Bill of Rights.

Andy Crews is the President and CEO of the AutoFair Automotive Group, made up of five dealerships in New Hampshire.

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